Note: The following is an archived email newsletter, originally distributed on January 19, 2021. Minor updates were made as-necessary. To receive content like this before it appears in archives, subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter and blog updates.
With each new year comes changes, some we choose for ourselves and others we have little control over.
I don't often make yearly predictions, but this year I feel some tides turning that could ultimately lead to good things for freelance professionals.
3 Freelance Writing Predictions for 2021
Here are three predictions for what 2021 might have in store for freelance writers:
1. Demand for freelance services will slowly, but significantly, increase.
This pandemic has been rough on many. It's been isolating. The virus itself has taken too many and left others still feeling unwell. And people are losing jobs and clients.
One positive element though is that the pandemic forced numerous companies to embrace remote work much faster than they otherwise would have.
As these companies get more used to the idea of remote workers and get a better grip on their remote work practices, I suspect hiring for remote freelancers will increase.
I see this starting slowly as companies don't feel ready to bring on full-time staff until the virus is under better control so they fill in the gaps with more limited freelance projects. But I see some of those changes being permanent as people get used to having access to broader talent pools.
For freelance writers who know how to identify hot prospects and make those contacts, there could be immense opportunity in coming months.
2. Search visibility for freelancers will continue to suffer, but we'll see new hope by year's end.
I know I've pointed this out a lot lately, but it bears repeating:
There is no better way to attract warm, well-targeted leads than building your search visibility. These are prospects literally searching for writers just like you, and they tend to search only after they've reached the point of being ready to buy.
If you haven't relied much on SEO to help you attract clients in the past five years or so, you might not realize the current situation is dismal compared to where it was just a few years back.
At that point, it was relatively easy for service providers like freelancers to build reputable professional sites and bring in those warm leads.
While it's still possible, some Google algorithm changes a few years back made this much tougher, especially if your site wasn't long-established and frequently updated.
Why? For whatever reason, they started prioritizing everything from generic job boards to bidding marketplaces.
But due to other recent changes, I suspect that "search intent" gap will show signs of changing this year, though dramatic changes probably won't happen for another year or two.
The reasons I feel this change isn't too far off are too complicated to get into in this email. But suffice to say recent moves by Google give me hope. This will be a longer-term trend to watch.
3. The confusion between "gig workers" and legitimate freelance work will either lead to accountability or unintended consequences.
You've likely seen or heard the term "gig workers," in reference to people like Uber drivers and those who make DoorDash deliveries. But this was always a misnomer.
"Gig" implies these workers are all legitimately freelancers -- as in freelancers by choice, and not because they work for companies gaming the system. In reality, a more accurate term for many of these folks would be "misclassified employees." We've already seen courts go back-and-forth since at least 2018 on the classification issue, and we're probably a long way off from nationwide standards in the U.S.
The problem is the media narrative focuses heavily on the perceived victimization of these misclassified employees, and equates them to freelance professionals who made a choice to go into business for themselves, who have significantly more control over their own businesses -- writers, designers, programmers, etc.
I see 2021 as a year where that confusion could either start to change, with court cases and IRS classification requests leading to more accountability from companies misclassifying employees as independent contractors...
Or I can see these very same inevitable court cases and inquiries inadvertently making things worse for professional freelancers / business owners.
Efforts to protect these misclassified employees run the risk of hindering our own businesses, as freelancers in California learned the hard way with the AB5 fiasco of last year (which limited freelancers to 35 gigs / pieces per client for the year, which is why you might have seen some gigs advertised as being open to U.S. freelancers except Californians).
On the plus side, AB5 led to massive pushback that raised awareness about the well-intentioned, but poorly-thought-out regulations, and it brought more attention to the issue of misclassification in general.
My hope is the likely continuing legal battles will ultimately lead to more accountability and less unintended interference in normal freelance work.
Maybe these things will come to pass. Maybe they won't. But these are some of the broad areas I could see impacting the freelance market this year, and in subsequent years.
So keep your eyes open for new leads from companies just beginning to hire freelancers.
Build a content-rich professional site to improve your search presence and be ready for any upcoming algorithm changes in your favor.
And keep a look out for local laws and policy updates that could impact your business in an effort to protect misclassified employees.